Native plants evolved with a gigantic number of associated microbes, fungi, bacteria, herbivores, and insects.
It follows that plants don’t exist by themselves – they need the organisms that helped them adapt and change over the ages. For home gardeners, insect assistants are one of the easiest and most interesting class of partners to manage and to study, and they provide lots of food for (perhaps more charismatic) birds. To get over an insect phobia, or even distaste, try thinking of a few simple ecological rules:
- higher diversity (plant or animal) will increase stability and help you avoid insect “outbreaks”. This is because natural predators are efficient and available if you take care of them
- habitat is essential – to maintain homes for birds and predatory insects; find out what they need, and provide it. Even small amounts can be very helpful
- minimize disturbance. Important soil organisms are reduced with tillage. Many bees – like the one pictured here – are ground nesters. They excavate complicated and delicate tunnels in the ground to lay eggs, overwinter, and pupate. This requires loose, bare soil that is not compacted by walking or dug up by pets, shovels or other organisms. Bees in this Agapostemon genus have been known to nest in lawns! Other bees nest in hollow dead twigs or tree cavities. They do not sting, they are gentle, and great pollinators
- native bees and other organisms are better at just about everything
- Birds need more than a feeder and a birdbath – they will clean your leaves and twigs of insects if you have flowers and leafage that attract such things. Birdhouses are great, but a tree cavity from a dead limb or whole snags are the best for harboring tasty insects and providing a place to next or roost for bats (aka insect eating machines) and birds. A diversity of plants, plant heights, with open space mixed in will provide habitat that birds prefer and they will visit you more often.
- Many predatory insects and spiders live and breed in leaf litter or under stones. Keep them safe by providing organic mulches, and leaving them alone! Do not rake out every last stick and leaf from beneath your perennials, shrubs, and trees every week, and don’t allow your gardener or landscaping company to do it either.